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ASD PA Clarke Meeting with Bureau Chiefs

Presenter: Victoria Clarke ASD (PA)
March 14, 2002 10:00 AM EDT

(Also participating in the Bureau Chiefs meeting was Dick McGraw, PDASD, (PA) and Captain Tim Taylor, Director of Press Operations)

Clark: I will just mention a couple of things and remember if you can identify yourself if you've got a question or a comment or an insult.

But one, apologies for the changing schedules and trips that were planned and then trips that aren't planned. It is just the nature of the beast. Lots of things going on.

We will have trips sometime in the next several weeks, couple of months. We don't know for certain. Nobody's place in the order of our carefully crafted process for picking who travels with the Secretary will change. But I just apologize because I know people were getting organized and figuring out who they were going to wend. So my apologies for that.

On the front in Afghanistan as we look to where operations may go next, we will continue to push hard on embeds and things like that. Things are going pretty well, knock on wood, but we're continuing to look for opportunities. A fair number of people are still circulating through.

That's about all I've got.

Q: Kathryn Kross with CNN.

What are the rules, Torie, at this point in terms of unilateral operations or pool operations in Afghanistan? There has been a whole lot of confusion, certainly on CNN's part. Has that been formulated? If so, what is it?

Clarke: It varies on the circumstances. As much as possible we encourage and facilitate unilateral coverage. In some instances it just wasn't possible.

So for instance when Operation Anaconda got underway, a couple of things. We had to pull people together very quickly to get them embedded, then we very quickly had to make clear, which we thought we had, that the products would have to be provided on a pool basis.

In other places the coverage is unilateral and it will continue to be. So it's a fluid situation to say the least, and I apologize for the confusion. We can't set one policy and say that's what it will be. We can reiterate what our general intent and desire is which is as much unilateral coverage as possible. It's easier all the way around. It's what you all want the most. And where we feel because of the circumstances we need to pool things we will.

Q: Does that mean then that, is it possible, do you foresee situations where we could think we're in unilateral and then it could change? Does it depend upon what happens in the operation? Is that --

Clarke: No, it shouldn't. And if we're talking about the start of Operation Anaconda, which I think we are, it was clearly the intent from here, because I was the one who looked at the pieces of paper and vetted it with all the appropriate people that that would be pool. It got lost in the translation somewhere down the food chain, for which I apologize. But our intent from the very beginning was that that would be pool.

So no, it is not our plan to change things in the middle of any operation.

Q: But some (inaudible).

Clarke: Correct, absolutely.

Q: Rob Dougherty from Reuters.

The initial pool, how was it decided? Was it just people on the ground there who were at hand or was it more than that?

Clarke: It was our people on the ground. Admiral Quigley from CENTCOM and Bonnie Bare I believe was the one on the ground who was just saying okay we have X hours to pull this together, who do we have in the area, who can we get there quickly enough. So it was really just the circumstances at the time.

Q: Debra Howell.

We ran into a very odd situation where we had a reporter embedded with the 10th Mountain Division and after the battle began lots of other reporters began streaming in. He was subject to military censorship because he was embedded; yet everybody around him reporting was not subject to military censorship. That seems unfair. And once -- I mean if you're the only guy out there then I can understand the rule, but if you are one of 40 I don't understand why you have to be the only one subject to censorship.

Clarke: When was it?

Howell: It was last week. It was a week from last Saturday, and it was the entire week he was there. Plus he was there two weeks before the battle began. And we understood and signed an agreement on embedded. That's not an issue. The issue is after the place is crawling with reporters why he was the only one still subject --

Clarke: Were the other reporters getting the same access to the 10th Mountain that he was, with that unit?

Howell: Some of it, yes.

Clarke: I'd just have to know more about the circumstances, because if he had something above and beyond in terms of access, for instance if he was with them 24x7 and the others weren't, or the others were observing activities from some distance.

But if you want to have him or somebody send me an e-mail I'd be happy to look into it. Given where you're coming from it doesn't sound right and it sounds like an instance where, to Katherine's question, we probably should have evolved the guidelines. But I don't know enough about the particular circumstances.

There can and very often are differences. If you're actually embedded with some people you probably are getting something above and beyond --

Howell: Right, and we understood that. It was after the place was crawling with people and everybody was there that we still had to get our copy approved, which led to a really weird situation. Our photographer had a picture of the first casualty being loaded into an ambulance. And the chaplain was giving last rites. And we were not in the [cut line] allowed to identify the casualty when the Pentagon had already identified him.

Clarke: They had notified the next of kin and we had put it out.

Howell: Yeah.

Clarke: Send me an e-mail on it and we'll follow up on it because it clearly should have been. I can totally understand if they were moving the photo and there hadn't been next of kin, but absolutely.

Howell: This was a full 24 hours after the ID.

Clarke: Okay.

It's a good point. I try very hard not to micromanage. It is very hard to oversee every single one of these things when Afghanistan is so far away. What we try to do is have the right kind of policies and give the right kind of direction and have them execute it. It's not a flawless system by any means, but if there are issues or concerns that don't get resolved at the local level, if you will, in Afghanistan, certainly they can go up the food chain, whether it's to Admiral Quigley or to me, and we'll look into it and we'll try to address it.

Q: Kathleen Carroll with Knight Ridder.

Things have been going pretty well at Bagram and less well at Kandahar at the base there. The access has always been minimal and difficult, and as you look ahead at the prospect of future actions, possibly other places that might require us to be working out of Kandahar, what can you say about improving the access and the --

Clarke: Can you give me some examples>

Carroll: Sure. It's very difficult to get on the base once you get there. There's not much -- Nobody wants to talk particularly. You can ask questions, no one will talk to you. The PAOs just say it's war. Well, we're aware of that, that's why we're there.

Clarke: I don't know if it's still the case but I know for some time there we had a lot of middle of the night phone calls, trying to help a sick photographer get taken onto the base. Pretty chaotic conditions and circumstances surrounding the base so security was a huge, huge concern. So that may have something to do with the pace at which people are given access.

Carroll: We've had people there for months, and it's just sort of a situation that pre-dates the time when there were incursions around the perimeter of the base and security became an even greater concern than it was. It's never been as good as other operations.

Clarke: We will talk to them.

It always helps, I'm ready, willing and able and it's my responsibility to be the advocate, and I'm happy to do it. The more specifics I have, it doesn't have to be a long laundry list, but the more specifics I have, say these are the kinds of instances that have raised concerns, let's address them, the better off --

Carroll: I can give you some of those.

Clarke: Sure. Thank you.

Q: Laura Myers, Associated Press

Just to add to that, I actually have an e-mail from someone giving specifics on Bagram, Kandahar problems. And they say that the reporters are limited to a specific area, they're not allowed to go anywhere without an escort, they're told they can't talk to any soldiers, Special Forces. Special Forces are told not to talk to them. When the PAO, when they ask questions, I think his name is Roper, he said I don't have that information, and it's either I don't have the information or I don't know -- Either he doesn't have the information or he doesn't want to give it out. But it's just lots of no information.

Clarke: Okay. If you want to send me the e-mail that will help when we have these conversations.

Q: Owen Ullmann, USA Today.

We have been trying I'd say for more than a month to get reports from CENTCOM on some of these incidents in Afghanistan where there's a dispute about whether they're al Qaeda, Taliban or civilians and are having no success,

Clarke: You mean on civilian casualties.

Ullmann: Yes. They say any day now, that it's got to go to you, that it's got to go to the Secretary, then it has to go back. And I feel like we're being strung along or something doesn't seem right because they keep saying days and we still have not gotten the reports. Can you tell me, what is the status and what can you do to expedite this?

Clarke: I talked to Jonathon Wiseman the other day about this. I don't know who is saying oh, it's a matter of days because I have never heard a date certain put on it.

About ten days ago, maybe a few days before Operation Anaconda got underway, so maybe the end of February, very first part of March, the Secretary did get a report, a briefing if you will, on a number of the incidents that were being looked into. He had more questions, he asked for further detail, he asked for more specificity on some of them, and CENTCOM has gone back to get more of that information. I know because we talked to them about this morning. I know it is something they are focused on and they're working on.

It is a real balance. We want to get the information out as quickly as we can for the obvious reasons. We want to make sure it's as accurate as possible. Getting ground truth on anything in Afghanistan is very difficult. Getting ground truth on these sorts of issues is very difficult. So we're trying hard to get as accurate information as we can and put it forward.

If we put out what we knew on day one or day two after some of these incidents, inevitably it would be wrong and then you would be sitting here saying to me how can you put out this information that is so inaccurate? How can you account for that? This is outrageous, this is ridiculous. And I'm saying that with certainty because it does happen.

So we're trying to strike a balance here. I talked to Jonathon about this the other day. If he feels he's getting "strung along" by anybody, then I will talk to them if he tells me who it is.

Ullmann: He definitely does. On several occasions they say any day now, any day now, rather than --

Clarke: Who are they?

Ullmann: I can have him tell you who. I can't give you the names.

And to follow up, I think it was two days ago CENTCOM issued a press release on these deaths that occurred about a week before.

Clarke: Right.

Ullmann: We had no success trying to rouse anyone at CENTCOM who could elaborate on answers to questions that were really kind of raised coming out of nowhere. We weren't --

Clarke: Let me stop you there. There's a certain amount of hilarity in what you just said, this release coming out of nowhere.

The release came out because, and remember Operation Anaconda fully underway, a lot of activity when that happened and a few days ago when CENTCOM put out the release. But in the middle of a high level of activity because they had gotten some of the information, not all of it, getting to these sites, getting to ground truth of what happened is very very difficult. As soon as they had enough information to put out this is what we know; this is what we know about what occurred. As we get more details, if we get more details we will put them out. They put it out. And it was about Jonathon or somebody else sitting around whining, saying I'm being strung along, why can't I get this information?

So do not say it came out of nowhere. It came out because it is our practice and it is our policy. When we have information about these sorts of incidents, the information that we have is accurate, the information that we feel is pretty credible, we put it out. And we put out as much as we know accurately at the time.

Ullmann: We just expected --

Clarke: We gave you the context. As part of a strike that was part of Operation Anaconda, vehicles leaving a place that was known to be where some al Qaeda were, the vehicles were struck.

Ullmann: I'm simply requesting, like with any release, that someone be available to call back and answer some questions.

Voice: You would have us like withhold information from the release so that we can answer some questions.

Clarke: Or --

Ullmann: As soon as you put out the release --

Taylor: Let me just give you a little insight from what we did in our office.

Ullmann: If we had any questions we couldn't get anyone to answer them. To follow up. That's all.

Taylor: We saw the draft release and we said you're crazy. This thing raises more questions than it answers. So we internally, our guys came up with 20 or 30 questions and said you've got to find the answers to the questions and get them all in there. We don't know yet, we don't know, we're still tracking it down, we don't know yet, we don't know yet. Every bit of information that we had that they were comfortable with went into that release.

Sometimes you've seen press officers have a little statement and a few Q's and A's. We got rid of all that, took all the stuff that they had suggested for A's and put them into the statement. The statement had everything that we knew.

Ullmann: It would have been nice if someone would tell us that.

Clarke: The people, I saw people quoted and I myself was called about it and I said we have told you everything we know. That is a response. It may not be one that satisfies you, but it happens to be a truthful, accurate response. Where you're headed is, we would wait weeks perhaps months to compile every detail and every fact about it and then put it out.

Ullmann: What I'm saying is we did not get a call back from CENTCOM. Had we called you, because usually we don't call you because we're told CENTCOM was handling it.

Q: Is there maybe --

Ullmann: I'm just asking --

Jeff Goldman, CBS: -- having a person with a number, like specifically that is very well briefed on it, anything so there's not the run-around --

Clarke: I push back on the word you're using because I saw people from CENTCOM quoted. I was called and I said you have all the information we have. So maybe it's a problem with USA Today.

Ullmann: I would have been very happy to have been told that. That would have been the end of it. That's all.

John Diamond, Chicago Tribune: I guess what you guys are saying is that you're 100 percent confident in your ability to put out 100 percent of the information you have available all the time, which in my experience with Pentagon press releases is zero percent of the time true. I just think you're being unreasonable. I think you're scolding him for a very reasonable point he's making. That when you put out a release there ought to be somebody there to answer some questions. That's all he's saying. He's not ripping you for withholding or suggesting you withhold. It's just have somebody there to stand by to answer some questions. If there's nothing else to say, fine.

Clarke: I've got to tell you, the phones ring 24x7 and we answer them 24x7. Maybe somebody from USA Today is having a problem getting a phone call returned and we will look into that and say is this a problem that somebody from USA Today is having. But the phones ring and we answer them 24x7. And we put out as much information as we can that we believe to be accurate and credible. That's what we do.

Q: Carl Leubsdorf, Dallas Morning News.

Are you giving thought, with all the talk of Iraq, and we realize there's not going to be an invasion of Iraq tomorrow probably, but I assume and hope that some thought is being given to how that will be, whatever happens we'll be available for coverage because that's going to involve a lot of people. Presumably it's not going to be 60 here and 25 there.

Clarke: Full stop. Any conversations, any discussions, any decisions about where we might go next are up to the President.

Q: I understand that, but as part of it --

Clarke: I'm not even going to speculate in the slightest on a hypothetical.

Q: I'm not asking you to speculate.

Clarke: Wherever there is military action we will make the best effort to ensure coverage of that military action. That has nothing to do and should not be connected with Carl Lupdorf's question.

Q: I'm not asking you to speculate. I'm just saying that obviously this issue is going to arise, we think. Maybe it won't. And we hope that due consideration is given in advance when that times comes to do that so it won't have to be pulled together at the last moment.

Clarke: Wherever there is military action we will make our best effort to ensure coverage.

Q: David Shribman from the Boston Globe.

There is still some sense of mystery as to why the regular pool was never activated. We've gone through two rotations now. Of course I don't think anybody can argue (inaudible).

Should the theater of operations move, and I think I'm expressing a general view here, that in the first 48-72 hours we think it is not only to our benefit but the public's right to have us represented in that pool and activated and I wondered if you'd given any thought about that.

Clarke: We give thought to it all the time. When is an appropriate use of the DoD national media pool? The circumstances thus far using unilateral coverage whenever possible has been the strong preference and we've done that. In extraordinary circumstances where we had to do things very quickly and it had to be relatively small numbers, we've used unconventional pools and we've had a lot of conversations here about that. Given the unconventional nature of the action in Afghanistan, that's what we've used and it seems to have produced an awful lot of product and it seems to have produced a fairly good response from the organizations.

I fully support, appropriate circumstances, the right kind of circumstances that say this is when you activate the DoD national media pool we would. We absolutely would.

Q: Was that considered for Operation Anaconda at all? Based on, apparently there were weeks of planning that went into that.

Clarke: Given the time we had, no. Given the time we had to put it together and get them out there, no.

I'm sorry, I'll take two more and then Dick McGraw can step up. I apologize, I have to be across the river.

Q: Following up on what you just said, I think we have been led to believe that the planning for Anaconda had been going on for quite some time, and from what you just said, does it make sense that you all didn't own about it and that's why it was such a quick turn-around? I mean you said you had to operate very quickly. If the planning had been going on for months, it seems like maybe you've thought about how we were going to embed. Because from our perspective, and maybe I don't know because I wasn't in Afghanistan, but from our perspective it appeared to be a very chaotic roundup of pool. I'm just curious.

Clarke: I'd say it was a quick roundup, I wouldn't say it was a chaotic roundup.

Q: I said from our perspective.

Clarke: Right.

Without going into too much detail about the planning, there was a lot of observation going on, there was a lot of contingency planning going on. If these certain things happen, if a certain number of people were observed to be in that area then things would happen from a military perspective. So in that sense the planning was going on for some time.

Knowing exactly what would happen from a military operations perspective was not really known until the final days that they were getting closer to March 2nd or whatever D-Day was as some of them are calling it.

So we were just working with a very fluid, changing situation and trying to adapt to the circumstances.

The good news is we had a commitment from the leadership that said whatever it is we go in there and do we will have some media there. It might be one or two, it might be more. So we were just trying to adapt to the circumstances as they unfolded.

All right. Mr. McGraw?

McGraw: I'm right here.

Clarke: There you go.

Thank you all. Thanks for being here and I'll see you soon.

McGraw: What's next?

Q: When is the next pool rotation?

McGraw: When is the next pool rotation? It's on a quarterly basis. Coming up in a couple of weeks.

Q: Is there going to be a meeting for the changeover of the players?

McGraw: I don't know.

Capt. Riccoh Player: Letters will be distributed next week. The 22nd.

McGraw: Snail mail. Hard mail.

Q: So they'll get there April 22nd.

McGraw: Yes.

Q: Laura Meyers with AP News.

A few days ago in [Ghardayz] Special Forces went to a [town] where journalists were at and said it was unsafe for them to stay there and they scheduled. What is the current security situation for reporters? Was that a highly unusual case? I'm just trying to get a update.

McGraw: I've seen reports recently that -- Well, we all know that the whole country is a very unsafe and untidy place, and I have seen reports recently that it's particularly unsafe for reporters. I don't know why that is, but I have seen those reports. Your folks are obviously in harm's way if they're in country and need to take that into consideration.

Meyers: It was good that they were warned. I'm just wondering if this is going to be a pattern, where you all try to tell the journalists it's especially not safe for you here at this time. That kind of thing. I've only --

McGraw: If we --

Meyers: -- specific there.

McGraw: I'm not aware of a policy change or a policy to do that, but I think the folks are just being reasonable. If we become aware of some information that we know puts somebody in special danger I think we would be remiss if we didn't tell you that, and I think that's all that happened in that case, and I would hope that we would continue to do that.

Tim, do you know of anything else that I'm missing on that?

Taylor: No. It was a pattern in previous conflicts also. When we know where journalists are and if we think they're in some danger we'll try to let them know what we can.

Q: Francis Kohn from AFP.

Going back to the pool situation during Anaconda operation on the tech side. What looks very chaotic also was a distribution of the pool materials. We have no clue at the beginning exactly what to do. At least [us] away from the center of the operation we had no clue it was a pool. But when we learn, how do we get that? It was very very confusing.

The Web site that we are using, I'm not sure is that the best solution. Is an e-mail, and that is open distribution -- e-mail distribution would be better. It's quicker, it's real time. I don't know what the other thing --

Q: I would agree. The first night of the pool distribution was pretty chaotic. It got better the second day.

We've recommended in the past that at least among the wires we're willing to, when we're a pool, to send it directly to the other wires when we send it to the web site because minutes often matter for a wire where maybe less so for a newspaper. We're still open to that if the others are.

McGraw: We try to leave it to the pool members to determine how to share the pool of material with everybody else. In this case, as Ms. Clarke said, it was her understanding from the beginning that this was going to be a pool effort. But as it went down the food chain apparently there was a disconnect somewhere so it's understandable that on the first day there were some people who did not realize perhaps, and I'm second guessing here, that it was not to be pooled. That's entirely possible. But once it was determined, it's really up to the pool members to determine how best to distribute the data, and I know on at least one occasion the National Press Club site has been used. I don't know if that was used in Ghardayz or not.

Q: That's part of the problem. It was not working when they first started trying to put reports there, so there was a lull of about 12 hours I guess, 12-15 hours before someone actually was contacted and found that could do something about it.

McGraw: We are loathe to get in the middle and be a repository or pool distribution site. It's --

Q: I think e-mail is probably -- I don't want to call it the old-fashioned way, but -- Even though it inundates your mailboxes, I think that's one way you know it's going to be able to get --

McGraw: It seems to me that the problem is overcome if everybody knows at the beginning before they step off that it is supposed to be a pool situation and you make arrangements before you ever leave as to how you're going to get the information back. If that happens then it becomes a lot easier. Apparently that didn't happen until after a day or so on this. I'm guessing on that.

Q: I'm not sure anyone knew that.

Q: Knew what?

Q: That there was going to be an operation, let alone going to be a pool.

Q: -- disconnect happened.

McGraw: I think that's why the disconnect that Torie mentioned, yes.

Q: -- Web site failure which none of us actually maintain, so there were none of us who -- That's a problem with having a third party.

Q: I guess it depends, but for us with a specific address it goes directly into our system so we get the copy right away. I don't know if it is like that for AP and Reuters.

Q: When the Press Club finally sent it out, they sent it to a server, it didn't get to their server because it didn't work. But we got it by e-mail, but I think it was about two hours or more after AP had actually sent it to the Press Club. So we did get it on that night but quite a bit later. Whereas if in that case AP had sent it to ASP, Reuters, and everybody else at the same time they sent it to the Press Club site, then we would have gotten it as they were distributing it. I think AP handled it correctly, to break down the process.

Q: I became involved in that that night. We had already e-mailed it to Reuters and AP and we couldn't get on the web site, so my bureau chief mailed it to all the bureau chiefs. So we did it like three different ways that night because we couldn't get it up on the web site.

Q: -- high technology. It failed you.

Q: I think we did distribute it to the wires first when it wasn't --

Q: Yeah. I didn't think we got it directly from you, but as I say, I know from talking to the Press Club they said it was sent in, it was on their end where the problem was.

Q: Chuck Lewis from Hearst.

Why is the department avoiding any role in helping disseminate pool reports?

McGraw: It's not avoiding any role in helping to disseminate pool reports, it's that the pool is -- It's your pool. How you get the information to those authorized to have it as a result of participating in the pool is, it seems to us is really your primary responsibility. We don't distribute your press releases. We don't distribute your photographs. What you shoot, what you file is yours to file and we don't feel as thought we ought to have a role in that filing.

Q: Over of the years the department felt otherwise on that very point. It moved from total reliance on department communications to what seemed to me to be a reasonable middle ground and that was the construction of the department's web site pass code accessible. I think a lot of us liked that system and we thought it had a minimal DoD fingerprint on it which of course could be a problem, and the technology worked. I'm just wondering why did you drop that?

McGraw: I was not involved in dropping it. Maybe Captain Taylor was.

Taylor: I would say it this way, I mean a way to say it. The Web site that DoD owns and operates and maintains is specifically associated with the national media pool and it's specifically intended to support a no-notice environment, which may include limitations on communications. In other words, part of the concept, part of the idea -- you can have a separate argument as to whether or not these apply any more, but pt of the idea was an event that was appropriate for the national media pool might go not some sort of environment where there's no way for the media to file themselves and that a military system would be used to get the materials back to DoD, to get it onto this web site, to make it available to the national media pool.

So that's the specific purpose for that. It has never been adapted or modified or expanded for some other use. It's a subject for discussion if you want, but that's the way that was organized.

The other part of it is what Mr. McGraw was saying. I'd say it slightly differently but pretty close, and it really goes back to the other comment about embedding and censorship. If it's at all possible, we don't want to be in the middle. We don't want to have our hands on it at all if we can avoid it. The Press Club volunteered and we thought that was a wonderful thing because it would help make it more available and still not have our hands on it.

Again you can argue well maybe it's okay to have our hands on it, it provides some sort of continuity or stability or support or whatever, but then you have the glass is half-empty idea. Geez, we've got the military in the middle of this again. Do we really want that?

So that's the rationale.

Q: The only thing I would ask is --

Q: Can I follow up please?

Captain, you seemed to say that the web site works okay for the national media pool.

Taylor: That's the intent, yes, sir.

Q: So it's in place and it's ready to work for the national media pool.

Taylor: Correct.

Q: Why couldn't we use that for one of these ad hoc regional pools that are triggered on short notice and often in primitive conditions where getting visuals and copy back are extremely difficult?

Taylor: It's a hypothetical.

Q: But it's happening.

Taylor: If that's what all of you would like to do then we can consider it. But it does put us back into the middle of something. Within a couple of hours there were multiple e-mails and forwards and when the Press Service web site came back up, it was all in the same news cycle that these things were fixed.

Q: Let me just offer a different point of view, Chuck.

I think that we're sorting out the problems of distribution among ourselves reasonably well and the DoD site has worked fine for the national pool but it hasn't always worked flawlessly, and there have been just as many server crashes on the DoD site as there was on the National Press Club site. Our own relationships with each other and e-mail, there's enough technological redundancy that we can figure out how to do this and sort it out pretty quickly.

You were in the Gulf War -- 12 to 15 hours to fix this given the circumstances is pretty fast compared to what we were doing. It's not perfect, but I think it's a problem that we can solve ourselves without asking the Defense Department to take on our distribution problems.

Q: Put this down for future discussion. (Laughter)

Q: We can talk about it.

McGraw: What else?

(No response)

McGraw: Thank you.